If Boys Don’t Cry, Then Why, Oh, Why Can’t I?

(A few weeks ago, I contributed this post to the Film Experience blog–my first guest post!–and I’m only just now getting around to posting it here. Normally, I’d link to it, but I’ve added a few images and altered the copy enough that I’m posting in its entirety below. But I still heartily recommend visiting the Film Experience blog!)

Twelve years ago, when I was a sound editor in NYC, I had the good fortune to meet with director Kimberly Peirce to discuss her film, Boys Don’t Cry. I don’t know if I was ever seriously considered to her supervising sound editor, but I was flattered nevertheless. And talking to her about her great film-in-progress was really a privilege.

I always looked at the film—the story of transgender male Brandon Teena–as interpreting Brandon’s tragedy as a Pinocchio story: someone who wants to be a boy is severely punished for lying. I suppose I thought that because of moments like this:

Lord knows Peter Sarsgaard and Brendan Sexton III’s characters scared me as much as these guys did in Pinocchio.

But in Peirce’s very incisive audio commentary, she refers much more to The Wizard of Oz as point of reference. For example, during Boys Don’t Cry’s opening credits, Teena has just “become” Brandon and goes to meet a date at the skating rink. Peirce explains that Brandon’s entrance to the rink is the final step of his mental transformation:

“We…set up a shot sequence that made you feel like you were walking inside the landscape of your fantasy. It was a…structure inspired by The Wizard of Oz:

A shot of the character;

a shot of the landscape she walks into;

the door opening;

the character going through;

and us going right through that door with them.”

This clip I made helps illustrate her point. It has Peirce’s commentary, Brandon’s “passage to manhood,” and Dorothy’s entrance to Oz…

Peirce’s entire commentary is riddled with these awesome examples of how she uses the camera to transform Brandon’s experience—as best as she can imagine it—into a cohesive film. To hear her thoughts on the difference between fantasy and reality; self-loathing as a by-product of an oppressive environment; Brandon’s self-destruction; etc, makes it very clear that the film’s impact was no mistake.


Filed under Film

3 responses to “If Boys Don’t Cry, Then Why, Oh, Why Can’t I?

  1. Adam L

    might i also recommend a documentary on the same subject, released a year before, from which peirce evidently also helped herself to? it’s called the true story of brandon teena, and a split screen of these two pictures would reveal incredible similarities (and might even prompt a lawsuit or two!). not just plot, but exact expressionistic images one would think had been the brainchild of a narrative filmmaker, but lo and behold, it had already been done by the doc maker.

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